"To the impartial eye, the world not only seems an unlikely one-off phenomenon, but a constant strain on reason. If reason exists, that is, if a neutral reason exists. So speaks the voice from within. So speaks Joker's voice." - Jostein Gaarder

Friday, September 26, 2008

On Hope

Almost a year ago, I was sitting in the office of the head of the Political Security apparatus in Damascus, to get an approval for a new passport instead of that stolen in Thailand. I was sitting there, listening to him as he read out loud my father’s file, and counted the number of arrest warrants with his name. That was less than a week after my parents’ death.
He rolled up in his big fancy leather chair, and said, “What exactly guarantees, that if we do give you a new passport, you wont go and turn out to be an asshole like your father?” I closed my eyes, swallowed myself, and let my uncle do the talking.
2 days later, I walked out of the immigration bureau of Homs with a brand new passport, and the freedom to leave anytime I wanted. Less than a week later I was boarding a plane to Egypt and eventually back to Japan.

That flight was probably the worst, and darkest two hours I’ve ever had to go through. My sense of abandonment was the only individual thing I could put my hands on. Everything else was just blurry, and painful.
I looked around as I was leaving and couldn’t think of a single reason for me to come back. I couldn’t find any part of me in anyone or anything here. I remember thinking back then of what a pathetic, deformed and fragile generation I was representing.
Followed by the most terrible year of my life in Japan. I had to literally deconstruct my own sense of identity. This pathetic, deformed and fragile identity that grew through years of the most honest forms of make-believe and doublethink. One that promised to collapse under any pressure, to leave me, at 21, completely naked and defenseless, sitting in a plane heading nowhere.
I’ve hit rock bottom this last year. The feeling that took over me at these moments was one of utter homelessness. There was not a single place where I felt any sense of belonging, not even within myself.

Now, as I look back at last year, I realize that I’ve completely come a full circle since that October. While I am nowhere closer to reconstructing my own sense of identity, I do feel like I already have the means to do it. And it will take years before I fully comprehend why and how this happened, this sudden collapse of everything I knew as part of me.
During the last month I spent here, a tremendous amount of recovery happened. Walking through the narrow alleys of the old city of Tartous tempted me to venture into the few old houses that still survive in my own Latakia, to talk to their people and listen to their stories. The little camel arcs that I saw while I was walking through this strange mix of new ugly facades and old rocks felt like they were filling a real empty spot in my mind.
I felt so close to this place, I felt like we were going through the same exact crisis. My Latakia too had a collapse in its own sense of identity. It wasn’t sudden, and it was more like someone shattering a fine china plate, but the end result was almost the same. I, like many others now, was living on the very edge of the cliff. The whole country is living off the edge of a cliff.

The only thing that I can see clearly around me is this collective lack of belonging. This collective collapse of everything people were building as their identity. Not many are conscious of what is happening, but even them, you can see them desperately trying to hold on to anything that may be saved.
It is truly sad to see this happening, in a sense. But it also offers a real chance to truly change. To try to reconstruct together our own national identity, just as we do with our own personal one. To start critiquing ourselves, and our world more consciously. To dust off our own layers and layers of cement and ugly facades and look what’s underneath. To read our own history more critically, and reconnect with it. To regain a long lost sense of dignity and humanity. To try and let this generation recognize its problems, and express them.
It’s a monumental challenge. But it doesn’t seem like any of the people in power is willing to recognize it. Everybody seems happy to just surrender this place and its people to this strange mix of old wooden language, mazot and mega projects.


Blogger Abu Kareem said...


A heartfelt, touching post. I am truly happy to see that you are on the road to recovery after a bad year.

That son of a bitch of a mukhabarat officer is so emblematic of all that is wrong in our part of the world. It is because of people like him that I hesitate to go visit. Sometimes it is better to hold on a sanitized nostaligic memory of your home than have it ruined by someone like him. But I know I need to go back; it is still my home and I need it to reorient myself in this world.

I share your pessimism about the people in power who dictate our future without our consent. I am however, still hope because that is all we have.

September 26, 2008 7:20 AM

Blogger Laila Joud said...

Now look how you just put tears in my eyes … I am so proud of knowing you young man.. You are just extraordinary !! But reading this I had to wonder what is it that we are supposed to belong to?? A country that kills any hopes of a proper life?? A society that strangles any signs of a change? Or perhaps just belong to the neighborhood we grew up in and which is very hard to recognize, for it has completely changed?! Not the same streets and not the same houses, not even the same people!! Everything we once knew has changed.. Even the meaning of 'belonging' has changed!! It is just so frustrating being part of this continuously criticized generation. This cursed and damned generation. Well we must have done something good!!
Yes we have to change.. Yes we can change.. There is always hope and possibilities.. There is always a way.. But do we really want to change? I guess it's just like you said but in more simple words: NO ONE IS ACTUALLY BOTHERED!! If someone even tried, a simple lovely meeting with that very same decent officer you met would be more than enough to wipe it all away!
But I have to admit, I want to be one of those who started losing their belonging to that place!!

September 26, 2008 7:42 AM

Blogger أُمنية said...

My roommate is a Tunisian . They have this habit of keeping the flag in their house. she said she's never felt people so careless or unbothered about the flag like this before. She's never heard her family making fun of it. Her brother would make fun of being a Tunisian when he saw her packing up one in her bag.


September 26, 2008 8:21 AM

Blogger Katia said...


Finally back... and how!

Great post. It made me feel like I was walking along, seeing those same rocks. But I have to admit that I'm becoming more and more emotional about that place, with its good and its bad. I do realize that that's not always a good thing, that it might jeopardize my objectivity, but - at the cost of sounding ridiculuously puberal - that emotionality feels good.

I guess we have a different history with those rocks and alleys but somehow it comes down to filling up a void. I don't know if this makes any sense to you but anyway, I don't want to make this too long.

Glad you're closing that circle.

Take care,


September 26, 2008 8:48 AM

Blogger abufares said...

Yesterday (Thursday) I started my morning by retracing those same steps between the ancient walls of my old Tartous. Later, much later at night, I walked the length of the corniche with Om Fares by my side. On both occasions I remembered you and the very little time we shared.
Remember when you asked in bewilderment whether it was true that they were going to cut (kill) those thousands of olive trees to build a university in Tartous. To destroy what nature so meticulously creates over hundreds of years with ugly soulless concrete has become acceptable in our culture. Whether to erect a structure for \"higher education\" or a more formidable \"prison\", it really doesn\'t matter since we have so willingly appended new words to our daily vocabulary such as civilized and modern or the worst of them all, touristic. We have a problem with the \"old faces\" that need to be changed, or better yet wiped out from memory, rather than our precious \"old places\" which should be revered the same way houses of worship are.
Back to you my friend...You\'ve done well over the last passing year, real well.

September 26, 2008 5:09 PM

Blogger poshlemon said...


you are definitely one hell of a human. I am trying to find words but they fail me. I don't think I know what you've gone through this year but I somehow know what you mean when you say 'you've hit rock bottom'. But, I think you've done okay.

I don't know but as an aspiring historian/art historian, I would agree with you. I really don't understand where public mobilization has gone? And as you say, where is their sense of belonging and their identity? Is it not represented through the rocks, vaults, arches, windows, carvings, facades? Is it not grander than to just simply give way for new modernistic projects... the new buildings in the so called international style that does not bear within any cultural or traditional significance?

Oh well.

September 26, 2008 6:44 PM

Blogger Mariyah said...

What an amazing post, Yazan. You gave me so many things to ponder. Your observations are well-founded and I couldn't agree more that we seem to be abandoning the past to create a new and different future. Concrete has a way of smothering everything that allows you to feel real. I wish you well in your pursuit to find yourself, to feel "of something or somewhere". I know how important that is and I think you will find there are more of us out there than you could have imagined. Perhaps it just needs a little prodding and your post is a good step forward.

September 26, 2008 10:22 PM

Blogger SillyBahrainiGirl said...

Hugs and good vibes my friend. You are a joy to know and an honour to have as a friend.

September 26, 2008 10:36 PM

Blogger saint said...

Each one of us, like you, carried the tragedy of that rude Ass Hole as you did in his bag when we left and sought freedom outside our skin. Every time I get the chance to see someone from back home I feel the joy of rewinding my memories, but does not take long to realize that our connection was distorted and lost for ever. The happiest of all is the one who can disconnect from his memories and his country if he could. But, hey we still can dream that one day your post will be written in Arabic and may be in a main newspaper to bring the bad ones to shame.

September 26, 2008 10:38 PM

Blogger yaser said...

I read your post, then I reread the title , I think its vital that we hold on to hope of a better future..

September 27, 2008 1:58 AM

Blogger moryarti said...

I think i was in Tartous around the same time you were there.... Its a shame I didn't know u were there ...

Keep your chin up man - ente adha we 2dood ..

wain aradeek hal yaumain?

September 27, 2008 2:48 AM

Anonymous Mais said...

First time I check this blog out... and WOW! i'm very impressed, if this post isn't a true unique realization & contemplation of self i dont know what else is! It touched me !"completely naked and defenseless, sitting in a plane heading nowhere." at least you knew this... others never acknowledge their loss! I guess the more you write &contemplate your life & passions the more you will know what/who/where you really belong to...
Identity is a big word and even if we claim we know our identity its an ever evolving thing that will always manifest in different areas and we'll always be surpised by our "Identity"!

September 28, 2008 4:49 AM

Blogger Solomon2 said...

Yazan, do you think your struggle is related to what Al-Zaydi writes of in his latest column:
There is sluggishness and weakness in dismantling the mentality of religious fanaticism, and great caution in any attempt to criticise the words of militants, as this would open Pandora’s Box that the mind or collective consciousness could not bear to be opened...Arab intellectuals, and I am not referring to Islamists, are misleading Arab society by playing down the intellectual crisis that Islamic societies are enduring and they follow conspiracy theories until they have dwarfed the danger of this ideology.

September 29, 2008 10:44 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Master of Melancholy; welcome back. Are you in Japan yet?
Some things my young friend may be repaired as they are, some things on the other hand need to be shattered in order to be built again. Identities, perceptions, and believes are of those latter things. Sometimes, countries fall into that group as well.
Did you travel to Sendai? The city itself and that vast 300km stretch of land between Tokyo and Sendai was literally flattened in WW2, among other places, by American bombings? It used to be the hub of much of the military manufacturing and Japanese army bases, in a very dense forest. Everything burnt, the buildings, the fields, the temples, the trees, everything. But everything was rebuilt again.
The majority of all temples and shrines you see in Japan are rebuilt to exact after WW2. The majority of forests in Japan are re-planted after WW2. Aside from few natural spots in the north (Shirakami Sanchi), everything is man-made.

Concrete can be torn down and olive trees can be replanted, old monuments can be restored or rebuilt to exact again. Nothing is impossible when there is a will, when there is a hope, an image, a dream of what was and what need to be built.

Identity is not something that has to exist. It is not something that has to be perfect in reality to choose to relate to. Our identity is what we believe inside we are, and it does not need to be even real. If I truly believe I am "Somewherian" then "Somewherian" identity is as real as the sky and earth even if "somewhere" does not exist. That is what kept Israeli identity alive for hundreds of years even though Israel never existed for the past two thousands years (until it was materialized in the mid of last century). That what made Japanese remember how to reproduce all their destroyed shrines and monuments. That what makes believers in liberal and peaceful humanity keep their faith without a "Liberal and Peaceful Republic of Humanistan".

Anything can be materialized if we keep it alive within us. The "Syria" we want, not the syria with filthy streets and corrupt government and concrete jungles. The "Syria" we dream of, not the syria that cuts trees and imprison or repel it's finest citizens. This Syria:
I See A Dream!

Our dream "Syria" can be hoped for as long as we keep identifying with it, as long as we believe in it in our hearts regardless of what exists in reality.

Keep on smashing and re-building, stability is a mind-numbing.

and drop me an email if you r back.

September 29, 2008 10:59 AM

Blogger bint battuta said...

Just beautiful.

October 02, 2008 5:13 AM

Blogger khaldoun GHAZAL said...

i found ur blog on searching 4 syrian blogs on the net and it seems very interesting to read ur thoughts.
i`m sure that all it needs is 2 take a very very deep breath before starting 2 rebuild our belouved Syria.....i`m sure it will take both time and efforts but it worth it ain`t it?!
excuse me 4 the mistakes in writing but here we barely speak english so..
best regards

October 27, 2008 7:37 AM

Anonymous Une âme triste said...

While I can't imagine myself being in the hell of a period you've been in, I can never summon the courage to move on and still believe in that place. I've lost that sense of belonging and pride long ago. Unfortunately, I know no matter how hard I try or wherever I go, I will never be able to establish a pure sense of belonging in any new place. A country isn't only the land, isn't only the people, nor is it only the traditions. And an identity is also more complex than a sense of belonging to "a place".

The land is growing uglier and uglier while it's being raped on a daily basis by its own people who have forgotten what Syria is, was and should be. Its history is rarely known and it's constantly being distorted in the name of unity in order to fit one washed-up monochromatic generalization of a region. Her people with all their greed are losing anything positive they inherited while corrupting anything good they import. A segregated society that only conforms, nods its head, and stab everyone in the back.

So how can we expect to sustain any sense of belonging or identity that is related to that place?

Best of luck, Yazan!

November 03, 2008 2:10 PM


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